On the eve of the 2017 IPCPR Trade Show, Nicholas Melillo and Foundation Cigar Company announced a project it was doing with a new cigar company called Highclere Cigar Company. For this project, Melillo developed a blend that would be distributed by his Foundation Cigar Company. Highclere Cigar Company was founded by George Herbert, who is the 8th Earl of Canavaran and the owner of the famed Highclere Castle Estate located in Hampshire, England. The first release of this collaboration was the self-titled Highclere Castle cigar, a Connecticut Shade offering. Today we take a closer look at the Highclere Castle cigar in the Toro size.
There are ties to the Highclere Castle Estate and cigars. it was in 1862 when cigars were first introduced to England and records at the estate show cigar purchases going back to the early 1900s. There is a tradition at Highclere Castle to enjoy a cigar and whiskey after dinner in the library. The goal of the Highclere Castle cigar was to produce a blend reminiscent to those enjoyed at Highclere Castle at the turn of the 20th century. Melillo took into account the profile of these early cigars and crafted a blend getting as close to possible as those cigars enjoyed during the early days. Throughout the process, Herbert played an active role in the project.
Without further ado, let’s break down the Highclere Castle Toro and see what this cigar brings to the table.
Blend and Origin
Melillo opted to produce Highclere Castle at AJ Fernandez’s Tabacalera Fernandez. This is the factory that handles production for his Tabernacle and Charter Oak brands. While the Highclere Castle cigar was one designed to be reminiscent of a cigar from the turn of the 20th century, the blend components are quite contemporary. In addition to the Connecticut Shade cigar, Highclere Castle features a Brazilian Mata Fina binder and fillers from Nicaragua. Of note, there is a proprietary tobacco grown from a hybrid seed known as Nicadán.
Wrapper: Connecticut Shade
Binder: Brazilian Mata Fina
Filler: Nicaraguan Criollo and Corojo from Jalapa and Ometepe, Nicadán
Country of Origin: Nicaragua
Factory: Tabacalera Fernandez
Highclere Castle is available in five sizes. Each is presented in 20-count boxes.
Corona: 5 x 42
Robusto: 5 x 50
Petit Corona: 5 1/2 x 46
Toro: 6 x 52
Churchill: 7 x 48
The Connecticut Shade wrapper of the Highclere Castle Toro had a light brown color. The wrappers on the samples I smoked were a touch darker than the average Connecticut Shade wrapper. The surface of the wrapper had a light coating of oil on it. At the same time, this was a wrapper that had a slightly bumpy surface There were some visible veins, but any visible wrapper seams were on the minimal side.
The band of the Highclere Castle has a mostly pale yellow background. The front of the band has a slight octagonal field. On the center is the Highclere Castle logo (two interlocking C’s and a crown over it). Above the logo is the text “HIGHCLERE CASTLE” in gold font. The octagonal field is surrounded by both gold and a subtle multi-colored trim. This trim also adorns the edges of the band. On the lower part of the octagonal field on the gold trim is the text “HECHO A MANO ESTELI NICARAGUA” in a dark font. The left and right side of the band have gold adornnment mosaic-like designs. The far right has the Foundation Cigar pyramid logo in gold font arranged in landscape mode. Just below the pyramid (in landscape mode) is the text “FOUNDATION CIGAR” in gold font.
Before commencing the smoking experience of the Highclere Castle Toro, a straight cut was used to remove the cap. Once the cap was removed, it was time for the pre-light draw experience. The dry draw delivered notes of cream, wood, and a slight berry sweetness. While these notes normally wouldn’t cut it for me on the pre-light draw, somehow they clicked quite well on the Highclere Castle Toro making for an excellent pre-light draw. At this point, I was ready to light up the Highclere Castle Toro and see what the smoking experience would have in store.
The Highclere Castle opened up with notes of cream, black pepper, and a note that I would describe as a slightly burnt berry note. The cream notes moved into the forefront early on. The black pepper and berry notes receded into the background and were joined by a cedar note. In addition, there was a subtle layer of cedar on the retro-hale.
Later in the first third, a toast note surfaced in the forefront with the cream. Throughout the second third, the cream and toast alternated in intensity levels while remaining in the forefront. By the second half, the cream notes started to subside into the background. Meanwhile, the background notes saw the cedar increase in intensity and the berry notes slightly diminish. During this stage, black pepper started to become more prominent on the retro-hale.
By the final third of the Highclere Castle Toro, the cedar notes joined the toast notes in the forefront. In the background, there were still touches of berry, black pepper, and cream providing a nice balance. This is the way the Highclere Castle Toro came to a close. The resulting nub was slightly soft to the touch and cool in temperature.
The Highclere Castle Toro maintained a straight burn path and a relatively straight burn line from start to finish. This was a cigar that required some touch-ups along the way, but nothing above the normal amount. The ash produced was on the thick side with a very light gray color. As for the burn rate and burn temperature, both were ideal.
In terms of draw, the Highclere Castle Toro had one that was slightly more open than I prefer. I would stop short of calling this a loose draw. I didn’t find this draw to have any adverse effects in terms of combustion, and it didn’t seem to affect the smoking time (which remained about 90 minutes). I did find the open draw to result in a considerable amount of smoke production.
Strength and Body
In terms of boldness, the Highclere Castle Toro is one of the more dialed back offerings I have had from Melillo. This is a cigar that started out with mild strength. Toward the midway point, there was an uptick in the strength level and the cigar moved into mild to medium strength territory. As for the flavors, they started out mild to medium-bodied before progressing to medium-bodied in the second half.
During the smoking experience of the Highclere Castle Toro, I found the body had the edge over the strength throughout the smoking experience.
The intriguing thing about Highclere Castle was the blend – especially the use of the Mata Fina binder and hybrid Nicadán tobacco in the filler. The resulting smoking experience was equally as intriguing. It’s a milder cigar, but with the Highclere Castle Toro, the milder profile works beautifully with this blend. I can’t assess what cigars at the turn of the 20th century smoked like, so I can’t draw a comparison of how the Highclere Castle stacks up. What I can say is that it had a unique profile that would attract the contemporary smoker. At $15.00, this is an ultra-premium offering, but it’s one that can compete with the best of them. It’s a cigar I’d recommend to any cigar enthusiast wanting a milder cigar. As for myself, this is a cigar I would smoke again – and it’s worthy of picking up multiples for the humidor.
Key Flavors: Cream, Toast, Cedar, Berry, Pepper
Draw: Very Good
Complexity: Medium Plus
Strength: Mild (1st Half), Mild to Medium (2nd Half)
Body: Mild to Medium (1st Half), Medium (2nd Half)
Finish: Very Good
Value: Buy Multiples
News: Foundation Cigar Co. to Produce and Distribute Cigar for Highclere Castle Cigar Co.
Brand Reference: Foundation Cigar Company
Photo Credits: Cigar Coop, except where noted